The entire point of professional wrestling is that some arguments can’t be solved with mere words alone. Sure, there are also matters of titles and prestige, but the vast majority of matches on Raw, SmackDown, and especially Pay-Per-View are culminations of blood feuds between two people who hate one another’s guts, at least at the time. Sometimes, though, simply fighting it out until one of them stays down for the count of three isn’t quite enough to settle the war. That’s where gimmick matches come in, adding an extra special promise of violence to the proceedings.
Unfortunately, in an era where WWE is rapidly and openly running out of ideas, these once truly special occasions are now commonplace to the extent of boredom. Not that long ago, two wrestlers deciding to square off inside Hell in a Cell meant they were literally ready to drag one another down to Hades and back. Nowadays, all Hell in a Cell means is that it’s October. Replace Hell in a Cell with TLC, Elimination Chamber, or Money in the Bank and switch around the months accordingly for further examples of how these once fears match types are now almost totally meaningless.
This doesn’t mean there’s no hope for WWE fans looking for a unique contest, though. Recently, the company answered fans constant requests by reviving WarGames for NXT, and they may well bring back a few more classic gimmick matches while they’re at it. Hopefully, they’ll stop using some of the outdated ideas they’ve been dragging through the mud in doing so. Keep reading to see what 8 gimmick matches WWE needs to retire and learn about 7 they should try again.
15 Retire: Cage Matches
According to wrestling historians, the very first Cage Match promoted as such took place way back in 1937. Count Rossi and Jack Bloomfield, though both largely forgotten today, were once heated enough foes in the Atlanta region that they’re final battle were surrounded by chicken wire. Five years later, in 1942, John Katan and Ignacio Martinez wrestled in wrestling’s first recorded actual steel-cage match. Regardless of which bout one considers the true beginning of the idea, the point is, Cage Matches have been around for a ridiculously long time. Of course, so have regular, old wrestling matches, but the whole point of a gimmick match is to do something unique and special. There’s almost nothing special about Cage Matches anymore, and even the most talented performers around can usually only create average contests in them at best. Especially with so many better options, WWE needs to move on from this dated, simplistic concept.
14 Bring Back: Three Stages Of Hell Matches
Okay, so maybe suggesting WWE start jamming three gimmick matches into one doesn’t completely comply with the argument there are too many of them these days. The thing is, by combining several old gimmicks that feel a little bit passé, each of the four Three Stages of Hell Matches the company has held over the years felt like a true test of endurance. Sure, cage matches have been done before, but how often do two wrestlers get stuck inside the steel death trap after already wrestling a normal match and a street fight? Mix it up a little so all three match types are on this half of the list and WWE could be reviving up to four classic ideas at once, although we have to admit, that might be a little overkill. Point is, any match type becomes special when it’s used as part of a gauntlet, and the versatility of this gimmick means it won’t wear out its welcome like has happened with so many others.
13 Retire: Hell In A Cell Matches
It was with good reason that Hell in a Cell matches were the first example of an overused gimmick mentioned in this article’s intro. Once upon a time, the 20-foot demonic structure was without a doubt the biggest and baddest gimmick match WWE had ever seen. The first few times it was used, namely Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker’s match at Bad Blood and the Dead Man’s follow up against Mankind at the King of the Ring, will forever go down in history as some of wrestling’s most shockingly violent encounters. However, it’s exactly because these matches were so special that the match type needs to go away today. Every passing year, WWE has not just one but three or more matches guaranteed to slowly dilute and destroy the legacy of their absolute greatest achievements. Fans no longer care about Hell in a Cell in the slightest, and Shane McMahon doing his best Mick Foley impression is doing nothing to change this.
12 Bring Back: Dog Collar Matches
Generally speaking, strap matches, steel chain matches, or any other match where the participants are somehow tied together are somewhat of a mixed bag with fans. Depending on the rules, which sometimes simply require one wrestler to walk around the ring in circles, they tend to feel anticlimactic and even silly. While this kept matches of that ilk off this list, there are no such qualms with the less common, yet significantly better, variation known as the dog collar match. There have only been a few important ones throughout wrestling history, but they’re almost all classics. In particular, Roddy Piper and Greg Valentine beat the hell out of each other at the first Starrcade, and the Pitbulls match against Raven and Stevie Richards for the ECW Tag Team Championships has been considered one of the best in that promotion’s history. Despite the track record, WWE is actually the one promotion that never tried the match type out on a major show, so they’re due for a classic.
11 Retire: Tables Matches
With all due respect to the Dudley Boyz, since their day has come and gone, WWE totally drove what was once a unique gimmick into the ground and buried it six feet under. During the Attitude Era, and sometimes even more recently, fans around the world went crazy when Bubba Ray screamed at D-Von to “get the tables,” but nowadays, no one even bats an eye when a thinly constructed slab of cardboard collapses in two. Over the years, so many wrestlers have made little botches that revealed how fake and destructible the tables they smash into are that no fan can take the idea seriously. WWE hasn’t helped the matter by having multiple high-profile Tables Matches were so-called legends like The Big Show and John Cena looked like idiots, losing by literally falling into tables without their opponents touching them. At this point, the concept has entirely lost its muster, and winning a Tables Match is basically meaningless.
10 Bring Back: Casket Matches
Given the presumed and/or eminent retirement of The Undertaker, there’s a good chance WWE will never see another Casket Match. This is a shame, because with the right performers, the concept often lead to some of the most unique contests in WWE history. In many cases, the mere spectacle of the casket itself was a drawing point, such as the extra-large one crafted for Yokozuna or Goldust’s shimmering golden tomb. Despite the association with the Dead Man, these examples already start to explain why he’s not necessarily a required ingredient in the concept. All WWE needs to do is have one wrestler say they hate the other one so much they want to “kill their career,” and voila, they have a brand new reason to lock someone in a coffin, with or without the Phenom. Considering the best performer to compete in one wasn’t Taker, but Shawn Michaels, it might be a good thing to switch up the old formula.
9 Retire: Stairs Matches
Look, we don’t mean to sound hostile here, but what the heck is a Stairs Match, WWE? Like them or not, all the other furniture based matches make sense — wrestlers climb the ladders, fall through the tables, and tend to use chairs as weapons more so than any actual, you know, weapons. But freaking stairs? Sure, Vader used them to attack Gorilla Monsoon that one time back in the Attitude Era, and the bigger wrestlers sometimes toss them around to show off their strength, but we're still talking about stairs here. In fairness, including Stairs Matches on this list might be a little bit unnecessary, since there has only been one such contest in WWE history. However, it took place in 2014, which was just recent enough we need to make extra sure the company doesn’t try using it again. Luckily, since virtually no one actually enjoyed The Big Show and Erick Rowan’s attempt at introducing it to the world, we doubt it’ll ever happen again.
8 Bring Back: Empty Arena Matches
In all fairness, from a sales and logistics standpoint, it makes total sense that WWE wouldn’t want to put on all that many Empty Arena Matches. As the name suggests, doing so requires renting out an entire building just for two wrestlers to slowly destroy each other as they wander throughout it. That said, the results are usually so rewarding to fans that the idea is entirely worth it. The two most notable Empty Arena Matches in wrestling were both extremely memorable affairs from bell to bell: Terry Funk and Jerry Lawler’s brawl through the Mid-South Coliseum remains one of the best either legend ever competed in, and despite a really stupid ending, The Rock’s war against Mankind on Halftime Heat earned WWE ratings Vince McMahon would kill for these days. It might be a little bit of a hassle to make it work, but the dividends WWE could see in viewership or even as a WWE Network special could justify the decision and then some.
7 Retire: Last Man Standing Matches
From the very first Last Man Standing Match in WWE, which took place at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre between The Rock and Mankind, the concept has been one of the most anticlimactic possible. It doesn’t really matter how great the match is up until the last few minutes, but they almost always end the exact same slow, boring way. Two wrestlers are extremely tired, battered, and beaten, so one or both of them keep falling down for 7 to 9 seconds. Finally, one of them stays down for that last second and is declared the winner. The only thing this gimmick really does is drag things out a little bit too long, after the competitors have already given it their all and are running on fumes. Granted, they haven’t all been bad, because the action leading up to the dull, predictable anticlimax can often be pretty decent. If anything, though, the fact that good matches are getting dragged down by the gimmick proves it shouldn’t exist anymore.
6 Bring Back: Double Cage Matches
Chances are, a few people reading this list immediately started screaming “nope” the second they saw that picture of Al Snow and Big Bossman in the Kennel From Hell, one of the worst matches in WWE history. Don’t get us wrong, we entirely understand the impulse, because that match was a total failure in every way. Remove the dogs from the equation, though, and maybe throw in some wrestlers with better chemistry than those two, and putting a normal cage inside the Hell in a Cell structure actually doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Although both of the ideas are so outdated, they both ended up on the other half of this list, somehow by combining the two, there are endless opportunities for new ideas. Small as it is, the little space between the two cages might be one of the most violently unique settings wrestlers could battle inside. So long as there aren’t any actual dogs invited to the match, we wouldn’t mind WWE giving the idea another shot.
5 Retire: Chairs Matches
While not nearly as bad as a Stairs Match, the idea of a Chairs Match was already a sign WWE was totally running out of ideas. In all fairness, the genesis of the idea almost made sense. For their annual TLC Pay-Per-View, WWE wanted to put on a Tables Match, Ladder Match, and Chairs match leading up to the grand finale where they combined all three. Quite frankly, we call this overkill, but Vince McMahon being the person he is, it makes sense he’d stubbornly commit to the concept no matter how dull and pointless a “Chairs Match” sounds. Worse than the fact it’s just not that interesting, recent studies have shown chair shots are one of the most dangerous things a wrestle can endure, so normalizing them with a yearly namesake contest probably isn’t the best idea for the average performer’s health.
4 Bring Back: Stretcher Matches
To WWE’s credit, the Stretcher Match and its variants have been used more often as of late than almost anything else on this half of the list. However, they still haven’t had one in over three years, and it was four years prior to that one the second most recent took place. This is a little surprising, as the idea dates back as early as the 1980s, most notably in André The Giant’s feud against Killer Khan. The point is for one wrestler to beat the other so bad they need medical assistance, which is a level of violence not even Hell in a Cell or the Elimination Chamber necessarily promises to the fans. Not only that, but after incapacitating their opponent, the victor typically needs to add insult to injury by dragging their carcass past a certain point, which has lead to some legendary post-match beat downs when the winner wasn’t done doling out punishment. WWE has a lot of monstrous powerhouses on the roster today, and any number of them could benefit from a reputation for their opponents getting lead out of the building on stretchers.
3 Retire: Battle Royals
Forget about Cage Matches feeling outdated — Battle Royals are definitely the oldest surviving gimmick match. In fact, they actually predate sports entertainment, having been invented by bare-knuckle boxers in the 1700s. Pro wrestling implemented the idea circa the 1920s, with practically every company of note to exist going on to hold at least 100 of them. That said, it’s not simply the fact Battle Royals are older than dirt and have been done thousands of times that makes them feel bland today. From the very beginning, or at least since promoters have been able to record them, Battle Royals have also been just about the most boring and pointless match type there is. To be clear, we’re not talking about Royal Rumbles, Aztec Warfares, or similarly plotted matches where wrestlers join one by one, but rather the classic variety where more than 20 men or women start in the ring at the same time. The problem is, with that many people in that little space, no one can ever tell what the hell is going on, and they go way too fast for anyone to look good.
2 Bring Back: The Lion’s Den
Considering the popularity of MMA and UFC, which consists almost entirely of Cage Matches in a sense, it may be worth questioning if WWE or any company can really make the genre seem overdone. They obviously still work, and when done in the right way, they make money even Vince McMahon can only dream about of late. Of course, there’s a huge difference between the UFC Octagon and surrounding a WWE ring with a cage. On the other hand, the seldom seen, almost entirely forgotten Lion’s Den Match was a different story. A smaller, tighter type of Cage Match that truly gave the wrestlers no escape from one another, it’s a true wonder why this gimmick came and went so fast. There have only been three in WWE history, all featuring former UFC fighter Ken Shamrock, who left the company way back in 1999. There is a certain other WWE performer with a history in mixed martial arts who would look even more like a Beast Incarnate if confined to a den, though, so WWE might want to think about putting him in one.
1 Retire: Non-Sanctioned Matches
Whether good or bad, at least all of the other matches featured on this list got here because of their technical merits in one way or another. Non-Sanctioned Matches aren’t so lucky, winding up as the number-one match WWE needs to get rid of immediately without any question solely because of how insulting they are to the fan’s intelligence. There would be no problem whatsoever if WWE called these matches what they really were, using a title like Street Fight, No Disqualification, or No Holds Barred. But no, WWE chooses to call them Non-Sanctioned, to imply the violence is going to be so off the charts, WWE management can’t possibly sign off on it happening. They will, however, allow the matches to happen inside a WWE ring, between WWE contracted performers, in front of an audience paying to see a WWE event, on a WWE Pay-Per-View, and officiated by a WWE referee, with commentary from WWE announcers. Simply by existing, Non-Sanctioned Matches completely contradict themselves, so WWE should stop trying to pretend they’re a thing.
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